Posts tagged “Grant McCracken”

Grant McCracken on his interview technique and mindset

Another fantastic Grant McCracken post. He conducts a short interview (embedded below) and offers a terrifically insightful reflection on his technique as well the meaning of the overall endeavor. A must-watch/read for interviewers.

Another thing I liked about the interview was the glimpse it gives of city life. In this case, of the invisible distinctions of space that are perfectly clear to Craig and a surprise to the rest of us (if and when discovered by the rest of us). The world is filled with this invisible distinctions. They surround us all the time. The secret of ethnography: keep an eye out. Ask everyone.

Grant McCracken’s brilliant “Ethnography, a brief description”

Eloquent awesomeness by Grant McCracken

The object of ethnography is to determine how the consumer sees the product, the service, the innovation. Often, this is obscure to us. We can’t see into the consumer’s (customer’s, viewer’s, user’s) head and heart because we are, in a sense, captive of our own heads and hearts. We have our way of seeing and experiencing the world. This becomes our barrier to entry. Ethnography is designed to give us a kind of helicopter experience. It takes up out of what we know and lowers us into the world of the consumer.
Ethnography is a messy method. In the beginning stages, we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know what we need to ask. We are walking around the consumer’s world looking for a way in. Eventually, as we ask a series of questions, we begin to see which ones work. We begin to collect the language and the logic the consumer uses. And eventually, we begin to see how they see the world.

The method is designed not to impose a set of questions and terms on the discussion, but to allow these to emerge over the course of the conversation. We are allowing the consumer to choose a path for the interview. We are endowing them with a sense that they are the expert. We are honoring the fact that they know and we don’t. (Because they do!)

Eventually, we end up with a great mass of data and it is now time to stop the ethnography and start the anthropology. Now we will use what we know about our culture, this industry, these consumers, this part of America to spot the essential patterns that make these data make sense. ”Slap your head” insights begin to emerge. ”Oh, that’s what their world looks like!” “That’w what they care about!” ”This is what they want!”

And now we begin to look for strategic and tactical recommendations. Now we can help close the gap between what the consumer wants and what the client makes.

Grant McCracken’s foreword for Interviewing Users

Grant McCracken has posted his fantastic foreword to Interviewing Users.

This is a wonderful book. Steve can teach us how to improve our ability to penetrate other worlds and examine our assumptions. Ethnography has suffered terribly in the last few years. Lots of people claim to know it, but in fact the art and science of the method have been badly damaged by charlatans and snake oil salesmen. Let’s seize this book as an opportunity to start again. Let Steve Portigal be our inspired guide.

Grump of the Day: Grant McCracken

In The “nod” and other acts of rudeness in the consumer society Grant takes inexplicable offense to The Nod – the phenomenon where an eye-contact/chin gesture is exchanged between two people who drive the same vehicle, use the same computer, or whatever.

But I have to say “the nod” creeps me out. I don’t want to be a co-conspirator in someone else’s act of self congratulation.

I am pleased that you believe your choice of computer or car or browser makes you look riskier or indie-er. But leave me out of it. The fact that we share consumer choices, put that down to coincidence. The moment you start sending me the nod for my MINI is the moment I take it to the used-car lot and see if I can’t trade it in for a Nod-proof Valiant.

Hey, to each their own, but one wonders why Grant constructs this as rude, or as evidence of personal inadequacy.

I’m fairly certain this has come up on his blog before – I remember commenting about the nod that motorcyclists exchange, and then amending that once I realized it was actually a wave, a one-hand-slightly-uncurled-from-the-handlebar as you pass. Or an arm stuck straight down. But you can’t search comments on that blog, so I can’t find the last time we all discussed this.[Yes I can. Grant linked to it in his posting. It’s here]

When we go through decisions to acquire things that are visible, in many cases, that’s a personal decision. The belongingness we feel when we observe that in someone else is a great deal of fun, not a product of personal inadequacy. I wouldn’t nod at someone else carrying a can of Coke. I might nod at someone else wearing a Rolling Stones tongue shirt. Hey, I might nod at someone else drinking a can of Jolt (I drink neither, I’m just hypothesizing about the level of identity, meaning, uniqueness, tribal, outsider, etc. embedded in the various product choices). I do have a few shirts with tongues on ’em, however.

At least Cayce Pollard was allergic to brands; she had no choice but to remove them from her person. Grant seems allergic to personal connection, we’ll have to do more than simply sand off his Dockers logo if we are to help him.

Update: the direct link above to the blog entry in qustion still works but a visit to Grant’s blog itself doesn’t show the post any longer.

Ethnography and new product development

From Innovation Weblog (via The Business Innovation Insider)

Simply put, ethnography – as it applies to innovation – is the process of doing observational research, going into the field to watch how customers utilize your products. Often used in consumer new product research, ethnography is an excellent way to uncover new opportunities for product improvement.

For example, speaker Pam Rogers, who is corporate director of global customer excellence and innovation, explained how the inspiration for a pedestal/storage unit for its Duet front-loading washers and dryers came from observing a woman who had placed her Whirlpool dryer upon cinderblocks, to make it easier to load and unload it without having to bend over.

Okay, yes, I guess, but really, no. It’s not simply about observation. That seems to be the easy part to explain and so that’s the part that gets spoken about. I’ve written a bit about ethnography here

So often, companies go to the trouble of studying customers, only to address the opportunities revealed by usage. For example, an award-winning snow shovel was redesigned when the design team went out to watch how their product was being used, found that women instead of men were shoveling, and so they made the handle smaller.

But there’s much more that can be revealed. What is the shoveling occasion (or, if you will, ritual) really about? What meanings does it hold? Does it hearken back to childhood? Or does it represent female independence? Or the nurturing of motherhood? Or the abandonment by men? Probably it’s none of those, but the point is that within the ordinary activity of shoveling we can find deep meanings that can provide enormous opportunities for innovation as we question the basic assumptions about what the product could possibly be.

I’ve found the word ethnography to be a troubling one, frankly. It’s a mouthful, it reeks of academic snootery and hand-waving inconclusiveness. It’s gets confused with anthropology and various parties have tried to claim the pure methodology only for those with the right doctorate. And I’ve been an advocate for stepping aside from the word and pointing to the key elements (getting out of your own context, observing and interviewing, and synthesizing something new). But that is troubling for some.

Grant McCracken has written a strongly-worded piece about the coming-of-age of ethnography in business in 2006, and there’s a spirited discussion in the comments below his piece, including several entries from me, including one where I advocate ignoring the word and just getting to the root of it (as I said above). Grant doesn’t take too well to that.

It’s a very troubling issue that is perhaps eating away at the development of an excellent practice and community of practice around that excellence. But I do think the terminology wars and the discipline battles are painful, frustrating, and perhaps fruitless. I look at the “interface” community which has split into many different professional networks based on what term they agree with (IxD, UxD, UX, UD, IX, ID, etc.) or what end of the egg they prefer to break open.

Yesterday I was in a conference call with a prospective client. We were proposing some work and hadn’t used the word ethnography at all. An internal person from another part of the organization was very interested in displaying her own mastery of the research process, and made numerous references to some ongoing work as “my ethnography.” Only she couldn’t even comfortably pronounce ethnography. And she wasn’t doing it; she was sending it out to the “only” provider that did this, apparently (?). And what were they doing? Inviting cool kids to an art gallery in Miami. [Okay, I don’t get this at all].

At a conference the other week I participated in a side conversation that included this snippet “Oh that’s not ethnography, that’s just depth-interviewing.”

I may be coming around to Grant’s way of looking at this. We have a problem. I’ve got my explanation, sure, but so does everyone else, whether they have more experience than I do, or worse pronunciation than I do. We’ve got experts like the Innovation Weblog getting it badly wrong, Pam Rogers perhaps missing some of the point, my recent encounters (presumed experts in their own peer group?) with their own versions of what we’re doing, and on and on.

Unfortunately, I have no solutions. And I don’t see a culture that is ready to reach a solution, establish a common language, speak in one voice (not millions), establish standards, or even work together on this.

Brand theatre

Grant McCracken offers up a provocative post entitled Brand theatre and the experiential brand, with some rules to create effective storytelling experiences

  1. First, discover [and] obey the local culture. Use its favorite media.
  2. Second, proceed as if less is more. Engage their detective work.
  3. Third, invite completion. In this case, invite them to tell more stories.
  4. Fourth, keep a small footprint (fewer reps better than more).
  5. Fifth, practice brand murmur (aka brand diffidence). Don’t go crashing in there.
  6. Sixth, engage theatrical resources. In a world saturated with mediated communications, there’s nothing quite like the real thing.) (Besides, we’re Elizabethans, too).

Series

About Steve